What is the Real Reason to Hunt Coyotes?
Ah the coyote…one of the most hated animals in North America. Don’t believe me? Just bring up coyotes to any hunter you know and get ready for a rant! Yea, it’s going to be long and passionate. It’s amazing just how much disdain hunters have for an animal…but why? Why do we hate coyotes? What makes them so bad? “BECAUSE THEY KILL DEER!” Well, before you get all judgmental, here is some information on coyotes (specifically the Eastern Coyote).
How the coyote came to be is well documented and very easily traced. An unbroken line can be traced back to the Eucyon davisi, or True Dog. This is an extinct genus of small canids dating back 6.7 million years. Fossils can be and have been found from Texas to Western Oregon to Northern Nebraska. As time wore on and the modern coyote came to be, they roamed grasslands and desserts.
Sometime during the early 1930’s and late 40’s, it was noticed that a hybridization occurred among coyotes. Likely originating from the extirpation of Eastern Wolf in Ontario and Labrador, Canada, coyotes colonized former wolf ranges and mixed with the remnant wolf populations. What resulted was a coyote larger than their western counterparts who hold larger ranges. The Eastern Coyote is present in New England, New York, Ney Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
As recent as 2013, mild influences of domesticated dogs and western Great Plans wolf were found in their genepool by Dr. Javier Monzon. This four-in-one hybrid was further researched in 2014 where Dr. Monzon’s team found that the domestic dog allele averages 10% of the Eastern Coyote’s genepool while the wester gray wolf averaged 26%. The remaining 64% matched coyotes.
Most of the Eastern Coyote’s prey consists of mammals. The list of mammals includes farm animals, bison, deer, young black bears, fishers, rabbits, and rodents. In addition to mammals, coyotes also prey upon farm birds, wild birds, amphibians (except toads), lizards, snakes, fish, crustaceans, and insects. Like most prey animals, coyotes prefer fresh meat, but they are animals of fortune and will scavenge when available. Roughly 90% of their diet is comprised of animal matter with the remaining 10% being made up of berries, grasses, and domesticated animal dung.
Packs of coyotes are common due to their smaller size. This pack typically includes a nuclear family that revolves around a reproductive female. Transient coyotes, those who roam large territories alone, will often settle with smaller, established packs. They tend not to remain long and move territories often. An established pack can have a territory ranging from .25-24 square miles, depending on available food and habitat.
Coyotes are monogamous and females who fail to mate will help to raise the young pups. The gestational period for female coyotes is 63 days with an average litter of 6 pups. These pups rely solely on milk for 10 days until their incisors come in after 12 days. Full teeth development is completed around 21 days. The pups will eat regurgitated food until they are 4-6 weeks old. These pups will reach adult-like size at 8 months.
The big question is why to trap or hunt coyotes? The most common answer revolves around whitetail deer. Whitetail deer are the most commonly hunted species in much of North America. Hunters easily assume that coyotes take a big bite out of whitetail deer populations. In Pennsylvania, it is a very common theme. The Mosquito Creak Sportsman Association annually holds a coyote hunt. Upwards of 3500 people register for the hunt and payout totals routinely exceed $30,000. In 2013, the only year available for hunt results, 129 coyotes were harvested during a 3 day period. That’s a good many gone, but with an average litter of 6 pups, it’s hardly a big dent.
While coyotes do prey on whitetail deer, it’s not as common as many think. The real answer is slightly more complicated than that. Penn State University released findings from a study in 2001 that showed that black bears kill “just as many, if not more” fawns than coyotes. This means that fawn predation is more than just coyote related. In addition, while it is possible for coyotes to prey upon adult deer, it is unlikely if other food options are available. The biggest reason I see to trap or hunt coyotes is to limit their predation of small bird and mammal species.
In my own unscientific, observation of our family property, I have noticed a drastic decrease in small, wild game species. When I broaden the scope past our 68 acres to neighboring State Game Lands, I see much of the same. Small game hunting of rabbits, grouse, squirrels, and pheasants was in good shape when I started hunting 17 years ago. With the increase in the numbers of coyotes during that time, I have witnessed a dramatic shift. Areas that were once great for hunting rabbits and grouse are now just places to take a gun for a walk. Our state is struggling to establish a wild pheasant population. I attribute this to a mix of predation, poor habitat, and habitat loss with the biggest influence being coyote predation.
With so many coyotes able to survive and thrive in such diverse habitat (rural, suburban, and urban), there is no way to completely eradicate them. Our only option is to manage them just like any other wild game. One method is trapping, which our resident trapping expert Roy Meaner (@LaurelMtMan) uses extremely well. The problem with trapping in Pennsylvania is that the season is short, you have to check the trap line every day, and other animals can be trapped instead (though this may also help the small game species).
The popular and trendy method is hunting. You can vary your hunting experience just about any way you choose; between calling, baiting, driving, tracking, and dogs, you can choose the best option for your situation. Most states have an open season on coyotes, including Pennsylvania. Here, anyone with a hunting license can take a coyote any day of the week, including Sundays (Sunday hunting is prohibited for other wild game). The biggest hamstring to hunters is that you must still use a legal hunting firearm. This means no semi-automatic rifles.
In our situation, we tend to use electronic calls and rifles to hunt coyotes. We tend to get into the woods during the early mornings and start calling 20 minutes before daylight. We have hunted them at night on occasions, but we have found it to be less effective in our area. The best part of coyote hunting for us is two-fold: hunting during non-big game seasons and we move every 20-30 minutes. This gives us something to do during the down times of the year and keeps us from getting bored in the cold of winter.
Whatever your reason and whatever your choice of reduction, trapping or to hunt coyotes is as good of a time as any other season. The time spent in the woods and cabins, with family and friends is priceless. Get out there and enjoy nature with those that mean the most to you!
Jason J. Crighton
TheModernPredator.com is a site dedicated to promoting ethical hunting and conservation based in Western Pennsylvania. We strive, as a team, to introduce non-hunters and youth to the positive interactions that hunting provides. We also try to educate all people that hunting is more than the kill-it’s everything before and after. This includes habitat management, ethical hunting practices, respecting nature, and improving our lands. Our members boast memberships to some of the best conservation groups in North America-Whitetails Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Deer Alliance, the Quality Deer Management Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania.